Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I’m still a bit too bloated to write, so I thought I’d just post a couple of things that have made me laugh out loud this week.

First, Scott Adams explains the securitisation of sub-prime mortgage assets:

And Jesus and Mo on why religion beats science:

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Hope everyone had a good one.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cheap Extra value jokes

It’d be easy to fume about the Pope’s remarks about sexuality and gender, but really – what’d be the point? This sort of crap is part of his job description. And giving him the attention is exactly what he wants.

So I won’t rant, and I won’t poke snide fun at anyone’s Hitler Youth upbringing. I’m going to be classy. And what’s more, I’m going to let pass without any smirking comment at all a mention I’ve just heard on the news of the Vatican’s views on “deep-seated homosexuality”.

Not a word.

Anyway, I’m far more intrigued by what the following news item described, while I was typing the above, as “Britain’s invisible homeless population”.

I don’t know whether that’s cool or just frightening. I mean, there could be three of them in the room with me right now and I wouldn’t know! Unless the smell gave it away, of course. And, in fact, if they were in the room, they wouldn’t be homeless, they’d just be invisible.

Think I’ll stop now…

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hallelujah, a breath of fresh air

Half the world seems to have done a cover of that old Leonard Cohen number, and the other half seems to have taken up arms in support of one version or another.

IMHO, Jeff Buckley’s really is pretty damn good. Alexandra Burke clearly has a great voice, but this, like many of Cohen’s songs, evokes a depth of knowledge earned through slow suffering – I’m not sure any 20-year-old could really do it justice. Actually, while I like the song itself, I’m not all that wild about Cohen’s own version.

Anyway. I thought I’d get in on the act. Lacking instruments, recording equipment and anything resembling a singing voice, my take is to rewrite the lyrics.

Now I’ve heard the charts a thousand times
(Or at least I’ve seen the singers mime)
I’ll spin a song of satire, cos I know this

It goes like this: use bad breath as
A metaphor for boring, crass
And phony stinking music – halitosis
Halitosis, halitosis, halitosis, halitosis

It’s all alike and makes a stink
But before long we just can’t think
It’s filling up our ears and minds (and noses)

The theory is, if the whole world pongs
We’ll never know they aren’t fresh songs
We’ll hum along to the hum of halitosis
Halitosis, halitosis, halitosis, halitosis

Such formulaic tuneless hits
Are mass-produced by business shits
Who care nothing for art but how it grosses

They manufacture all our sounds
To fill the air and float around
A monkey could do this – who needs composers?
Halitosis, halitosis, halitosis, halitosis

But now and then it works out well
A sweet aroma breaks the smell
And lifts our voices up in Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

And if the masses buy a cover
When we’d prefer they bought another
Well sod it – Merry Christmas, Happy New Year
Happy New Year, Happy New Year, Happy New Year, Happy New Year
Happy New Year... [etc.]
Happy Neeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwww Year

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’

Rowan Williams is the leading intellectual of the Church of England, in much the same way that Prince Charles is the leading intellectual of the royal family. He (Williams) says:

The 20th century built up quite a list of casualties around ‘principles’ in [Karl] Barth’s sense. Various philosophies solemnly assured us that the human cost is really worth it, because history will vindicate the sufferings and sacrifices of the present. Keep your nerve, don’t be distracted by the human face of suffering, because it will be all right in the end; we know it will because the principles are clear.

How could anyone read such a passage – let alone write it – and not think of Christianity as the classic exemplar of the ‘keep your nerve… it will be all right in the end’ school of thought ?

He says that Barth was warning against “the temptation of unconditional loyalty to a system, a programme, a ‘cause’ which was essentially about ‘me and people like me’”. But he exempts Christianity: “everyone is capable of saying yes to this appeal, so no one is dispensable”.

There are indeed parts of Christian teaching that apply universally. There are other parts that place non-believers in a clearly inferior moral category. Williams (usually) chooses to emphasise the former parts; many other Christians prefer the latter. Williams’s choice here is, therefore, made on some basis other than being derivable from the Bible: his temperament? Or even principle? Because that’s what it is: a belief in the universal and unconditional worth of all people is a belief in a principle; it’s just one that he happens to think there’s a God who agrees with him about.

The mythology of the Gospels, and the institutional history of the Church, are pretty rickety vehicles for this principle (and they carry many less savoury passengers). But Williams loves these old bangers. Heigh ho.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

New laptop

It's sleek and it works and it exists and everything.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Mindeth thy language

Jan Freeman (no relation) muses on clumsy archaisms:

Last weekend, I was ready to grouse and grumble once more about my fellow journalists' weakness for misusing ye olde Elizabethan verbs.
First there was Gail Collins in the New York Times: "I like thinking of next year's senate as a kind of mythic quest movie," she wrote, "in which a Democratic hero in need of a stimulus package or a Supreme Court confirmation is told: 'Go forth and seeketh the Women of Maine.' "
The next day, the Sunday Globe's main page one headline - on a story about the Bruins' resurgence - was "The icemen returneth."
My problem is not the archaism but the grammar: These constructions are as off-kilter as "They has a problem" or "We loves Christmas." That verb ending on seeketh and returneth is not a poetic flourish, but a mark of the third person singular: He, she, or it returneth. Thou return'st, if thou must, but for everyone else it's just return.

Fair call.

One of the few places we still see authentic archaisms is in Biblical quotation: “Thou shalt not kill”, “And the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” The King James Version had a huge influence on the development of English, although it of course reflected existing language use at the time (1611).

Thing is, for us to quote it now is a little bit phony. I can happily agree that its language is often very graceful (perhaps not surprising, as I’ve been brought up in its cultural wake). Compare, for instance, the New International Version (1970s): “You shall not murder”, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. Ugh. Probably better semantically (killing in self-defence is now acceptable), but there’s no poetry.

But there’s a phoniness involved in the archaic KJV quotes and readings that we hear: it’s old language; it feels old; thus it feels authentic. But it’s not. None of the characters in the Bible, including the ones that actually existed, spoke Early Modern English. They spoke appropriately contemporary language.

And then there’s the manner of speech. Take this passage:

But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. (KJV)

When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these’. (NIV)

Now, for my money, the KJV kicks arse. But it’s also ridiculous for us to be using it as a reference tool. Even though all the words are still in use, the phraseology is all wrong. Nobody now says ‘much displeased’ unless they’re intending to sound theatrically (or even Biblically) formal. Ditto constructions such as ‘forbid them not’. This usage of ‘suffer’ is near-extinct – and it would certainly be extinct if not for the famous texts, such as this, that use it.

Jesus, by all accounts, was not a lofty establishment figure. He was a man from a common background, without a privileged upbringing. That’s part of the point. There’s simply no way he would have spoken in such overwrought, self-consciously formal archaisms. The KJV, while it might have been reasonable in the 17th century, and while it might still have more resonance, now misleads us in this respect.

But for those of us who treat the Bible as a mish-mash of mythology, allegory, dodgy history, anachronistic diet tips, guesswork, fiction, genealogy and moral teachings that are intermittently wise, banal, arbitrary and bigoted, that’s fine. We can pick the version that reads the nicest (should we want to) and not worry about accuracy, because the whole fundamental premise of this odd collection of texts is itself wildly inaccurate.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Momentary failure of perspective

Standing in the supermarket, getting pissed off that all their wrapping paper is Christmas-themed, meaning that I can’t use it for birthday presents the rest of the year.

79p a roll.

I got over it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The kind of language he understands

You know, I think George Bush’s reaction to having shoes thrown at him was probably the finest moment of his presidency. He was quick, calm and cheery.

Watch it here.

Compare it with his agonising attempt to answer a question about what his biggest mistake has been and what lesson’s he’s learned. That was in 2004. And let’s not forget his educational response to the news of major terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

But flying shoes – well, he’s the man. Can you imagine Barack Obama handling that even a tenth as well? To Mount Rushmore, and don’t spare the chisels!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Some powers are made for abuse

Everyone is crying corruption at the allegations that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has tried to sell the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. And corrupt that would indeed be, if it’s true.

But what’s more corrupt is the fact that he has the power to appoint a replacement at all. Blame the seventeenth amendment, which has this to say:

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of each State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

A state can call a quick by-election, but it need not. The Governor – if the state legislature agrees – can appoint anyone to fill the vacancy, unelected, often until the next set of normal biennial elections.

It’s a corrupt power, one of a number in US politics – presidential pardons being the most egregious example. It allows someone in one part of the system to meddle with the workings of a part that’s supposed to be separate, to the benefit of whomever that person likes.

(Not that other countries don’t also have systemic corruption – the UK, after all, has an entirely unelected upper house.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Campaign for Real Soap

Matthew Parris:

In the shower yesterday, I was struggling with some idiotic substance called “shower scrub”. (It was in a bottle that you couldn't hold, squeeze and collect from, while at the same time trying to wash yourself with the other hand. You lost most of it down the plughole.) And I remembered the late Alan Coren's column about things invented in the wrong order.
So here, Alan, is another for your list: that brilliant new invention for the shower: a washing agent in solid form; self-cleaning; economical; easily handled; no caps to lift or seal; no packaging but a discardable paper wrap; unable to be spilt down the plughole; and giving an all-day perfume to your bathroom! It's called “soap”.


Apart from being handier than the alternatives, soap also has more admirable metaphysical properties: its solidity is reassuringly definite, giving users a thorough sense of the objectivity of the world; and it looks like what it is, rather than like any number of possible substances.

I completely agree.

And what’s more, without good old-fashioned bars of soap, this awful, awful joke wouldn’t work:

Two nuns are having a bath. One says: “Where’s the soap?” The other replies: “Yes, it does, doesn’t it?”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008



Supreme Court Overturns Bush v. Gore

In an unexpected judicial turnaround, the Supreme Court this week reversed its 2000 ruling in the landmark case of Bush v. Gore, stripping George W. Bush of his earlier political victory, and declaring Albert Arnold Gore the 43rd president of the United States of America.
The court, which called its original decision to halt manual recounts in Florida "a ruling made in haste," voted unanimously on Wednesday in favor of the 2000 Democratic nominee.
Gore will serve as commander in chief from Dec. 10 to Jan. 20.

Logical conclusions

David Cameron opposes temporary tax cuts to counter the recession:

we need to act now to set our economy and our public finances on a sustainable path - because doing so will help make the recession shorter and shallower.

If people know that they will be hit with massive tax rises in a couple of years, they’re less inclined to spend more now. If businesses know that Government borrowing is rising to unsustainable levels they know that will de-stabilise our economy and so they’re going to be wary about playing a more active role in that economy.

For these reasons, fiscal responsibility is the right economic strategy for the short-term as well as the long-term. It is right for today, as well as tomorrow. Dealing with Labour’s recession and dealing with Labour’s record debt are not separate priorities – one urgent, the other to be put on the back burner. They are intimately connected priorities and they are both urgent priorities.

Fair enough.

But if you believe that the quality of the recovery will be determined by the level of public borrowing, and that deficit reduction is thus an urgent matter, surely you should be pressing for immediate temporary tax rises – to be followed eventually by tax cuts only when you’ve achieved spending cuts already?


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Novice: ‘No time for a lightweight’

Were my laptop not in a coma, I’d have time to write a considered piece about the bills in the Queen’s Speech – or anything else, really. Instead, I’m reduced to plugging second-hand gossip for a cheap partisan chuckle:

On meeting Cameron, Obama was, according to diplomatic sources, "distinctly unimpressed", contrary to some reports (excitedly spun by the Conservatives) which suggested that the two men had formed an instant "bond". Instead, I have been told, Obama exclaimed of Cameron after their meeting: "What a lightweight!"


(Shame on me.)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The ancient right of good chaps not to be bothered by the oiks in uniform

Paulie continues to offer a series of good posts on this Damian Green kerfuffle affront to democracy and incipient Stalinism. There is no more beautiful a sight than a clever blogger with a bee in his bonnet. Except for Salma Hayek, possibly.

And Luke points out footage of the Shadow Cabinet not seeming all that bothered…

And me? What with only being able to grab spare moments of computer time at work and none at home, I’m reduced to posting links and having cheap fun:

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Tumbleweed central

My laptop is critically (perhaps terminally) ill, so I’ll be doing little or no blogging until I can get it either nursed back to health or taken out to the back yard, shot and replaced.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Horses’ heads are for wimps

So. I’m on the third floor, wanting to go up to the fifth. I press the ‘up’ button and wait for one of the lifts to arrive. One does, and as its doors open some guy appears from somewhere behind me, breezes into it and presses ‘B’ (for basement - keep up, please).

Thrown momentarily, I neither follow him into the lift nor say ‘actually, that was my lift to go up’. I realise that the ‘up’ summons light has now gone off because the system expected this one to be going up. I need to call another, and as the doors to the hijacked lift close, I press ‘up’ again. The lift doors stop closing and reopen.

This lift clearly still thinks it’s supposed to be going up (which makes two of us), and it’ll think that until the doors have had a chance to close and new directions been given. Then it’ll take this miserable interloper down to his Basement of Treachery, and only after it’s set off will I be able to summon a new one. Or I could perfectly well just hop in to it, press ‘5’ and it’ll go to 5. But then I’ll have to share the lift with this shiftless cur, with each of us trying not to glower at and/or knife the other.

So I let the doors to the lift close again. Almost. Then I press ‘up’ again, and the doors reopen. Given where I’m standing, he can’t see me.

I do this to him another four times.

Then I let him go. Satisfied, I call another lift and get on with my day.

Do not cross me. My vengeance is swift and terribly silly.